Canadian Art

Fine Art Conservation: Gloucester Harbour, Watercolour Painting by J. M. Barnsley

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, before and after conservation treatment.

Sometimes bad things happen to good art! This elegant watercolour painting by Canadian artist J. M. Barnsley had suffered water damage in a flooded basement, causing a large disfiguring stain across most of the image. 

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

19th century watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley, suffering water and mould stains.

Luckily, recent stains are often easier to treat than old stains, and when the owners brought it to Book and Paper Conservation Services, we were able to help. 

The process was multi-fold. First, the acidic pulp board backer on the watercolour was removed. This step was painstaking and time-consuming, but necessary before any cleaning could be undertaken. The brown colouring and acidity of the pulp board had leached into the painting when it was exposed to water, causing the staining in the image; it had also caused the paper overall to yellow and deteriorate. Backer boards like this are very common on 19th century watercolours, and this is why we always recommend they be removed as a preservation measure for any work of art on paper. 

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Removing the acidic pulp board backer from the watercolour painting.

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Verso of the watercolour after backing removal. The stain is evident, as is the adhesive residue of the backer board. 

Once the painting was free of the backer board, it underwent aqueous cleaning in deionized water; this treated not only the overall yellowing of the paper but also began the process of loosening the dark brown staining in the image. After several rinses, the watercolour was air dried, and the results evaluated. Washing had brightened paper tone and significantly reduced the hard brown water stain.

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

The watercolour during aqueous cleaning. The stain is loosening as water molecules penetrate the paper fibres. 

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

Yellow discolouration removed by the first immersion cleaning.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After washing, before chemical bleaching. The paper tone is brighter, the staining is reduced.

After extensive testing to determine the sensitivity of the pigments and potential reaction of the stain, the final step was to locally apply a chemical bleach to further treat the discolouration. Only solutions that have been tested and approved by conservation scientists are used for chemical bleaching treatments, and only in very controlled applications; the treatment must not leave any trace amounts of chemical, or cause any further damage to the materials. In this case, a very low percentage of a reducing agent was used, and the paper was then rinsed multiple times to remove all chemical residue.

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

Testing local application of chemical bleach. 

The bleaching treatment further reduced the stain, to the point that it is nearly eliminated. Light losses to the watercolour pigment in areas of mould damage were inpainted to unify the image. The scene can now be appreciated without distraction, and the paper tone is brighter, allowing the colours to appear as the artist intended. 

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

After conservation treatment, the staining is barely visible, the paper tone is brighter and the image can once more be appreciated without distraction.

An unexpected revelation after treatment was the title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, handwritten in graphite on the lower left corner of the verso. 

The title of the painting,  Gloucester Harbour , revealed on the verso.

The title of the painting, Gloucester Harbour, revealed on the verso.

The clients selected a new framing scheme for the artwork, and our conservation framing included Japanese tissue hinges adhered with reversible wheat starch paste, acid-free backer and mat board, and GroGlass ARTGLASS 99, offering 99% UV protection. The watercolour painting by J. M. Barnsley is once more looking its best, and is properly preserved for the future. The owners have it displayed in their home once again, and one day will pass it down in their family.  

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

Conservation framing completes the project with acid-free materials and UV filtering glass.

If you have an artwork that has been damaged by flooding or another catastrophe, don't hesitate to contact us to discuss restoration options. You may think there's little hope to reverse the damage, but it never hurts to get a professional opinion; we're not miracle workers, but quite often conservation treatment can dramatically improve a damaged work of art.

Check out our portfolio of treatments, or contact us today.

Art Conservation: David Milne Watercolours

David Milne watercolour painting - art conservation

David Milne is one of Canada's most iconic artists, and his sparse, evocative style is seen to great advantage in his watercolour paintings. But as with any art on paper, Milne's works are very susceptible to damage and deterioration. Book and Paper Conservation Services recently restored three David Milne watercolours for the Art Gallery of Windsor

Big Moose , David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Staining and mat burn disfigure the image.

Big Moose, David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Staining and mat burn disfigure the image.

The three works on paper are part of a bequest given to the Gallery by the Estate of Leslie Stibinger, and had not previously been displayed. Moisture and poor storage conditions before acquisition by the gallery had resulted in mould and mildew stains in the paper, as well as mat burn around the perimeter of all three artworks.

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; before conservation, dramatic staining in the upper right quadrant disfigures the work. 

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; before conservation, dramatic staining in the upper right quadrant disfigures the work. 

Last Snow of Winter , David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Mat burn around the perimeter was the worst damage to this piece. 

Last Snow of Winter, David Milne, watercolour on paper, before conservation treatment. Mat burn around the perimeter was the worst damage to this piece. 

Verso of  Last Snow of Winter , showing tape and adhesive residue, before conservation treatment.

Verso of Last Snow of Winter, showing tape and adhesive residue, before conservation treatment.

The watercolours came to Book and Paper Conservation Services for conservation treatment in the summer of 2017, in advance of the exhibition 'Blazes Along the Trail': Exploring David Milne’s Imaginative Vision, running October 21, 2017 – January 28, 2018. The Gallery was eager to include these three works in the show, but wished to have them restored to their best condition before display. 

The stains in white areas of the paper disfigured the images and distracted from the viewers' appreciation of the composition. The mat burn around the perimeters hindered the works from being displayed to their outermost edges, and the remains of acidic tape and adhesive on the reverse of the works were causing long-term deterioration. These issues were addressed during the restoration of the works.

Testing treatment of mat burn on  Weed Mines , David Milne.

Testing treatment of mat burn on Weed Mines, David Milne.

Stain reduction on  Weed Mines , David Milne.

Stain reduction on Weed Mines, David Milne.

Removal of tape and adhesive residue from verso of artwork.

Removal of tape and adhesive residue from verso of artwork.

Cleaning and stain reduction in progress on  Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper.

Cleaning and stain reduction in progress on Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper.

After extensive testing of the media, paper and stains, a treatment protocol was proposed that included surface cleaning, local stain reduction using chemical bleach, and mechanical removal of the adhesive tape. Over the course of several weeks, the treatments were painstakingly executed to restore the works to Milne's original vision.

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; stained area before and after conservation.

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; stained area before and after conservation.

Big Moose , David Milne; staining before and after conservation treatment.

Big Moose, David Milne; staining before and after conservation treatment.

The three watercolours have been stabilized and preserved, and now that they are back in the care of the Art Gallery of Windsor, they will remain safe for future generations to enjoy. These works, along with a number of other paintings and prints by Milne, are on display in the exhibition 'Blazes Along the Trail': Exploring David Milne’s Imaginative Vision until January 28, 2018. 

Weed Mines , David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation treatment. The staining across upper area of image has been dramatically reduced, restoring the integrity of the artwork.

Weed Mines, David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation treatment. The staining across upper area of image has been dramatically reduced, restoring the integrity of the artwork.

Big Moose , David Milne, watercolour on paper; conservation treatment has reduced stains so they no longer detract from the image.

Big Moose, David Milne, watercolour on paper; conservation treatment has reduced stains so they no longer detract from the image.

If you would like to read more about Milne's art, the AGW's collection, and the conservation treatment of these watercolours, you can access a free e-publication produced by the Gallery to accompany the exhibition, available on their website. Book and Paper Conservation Services was pleased to contribute an essay on our work conserving the Milne watercolours.

Last Snow of Winter , David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation, mat burn has been eliminated so the image can be viewed out to the perimeter. 

Last Snow of Winter, David Milne, watercolour on paper; after conservation, mat burn has been eliminated so the image can be viewed out to the perimeter. 

We are happy to work with both public institutions and private collectors to preserve important cultural objects for the future. View our fine art conservation portfolio to see other projects completed at the studio, and contact us anytime to enquire about restoration of works on paper in your own collection.

Art Conservation: Two Paintings by Emily Carr

Sea and Skyscape by Emily Carr - Before and After Conservaton

Emily Carr is one of Canada's most iconic artists, and her sweeping west coast landscapes are instantly recognizable. As an artist, she was concerned with representing the nature around her, and was inspired by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast. Unfortunately, like many artists of her time, the materials available to her were not always of the best quality and over time many of her works have deteriorated.

Sea and Skyscape , by Emily Carr         Oil on paper, 57.5 x 87.9 (HxW) Before Conservation Treatment

Sea and Skyscape, by Emily Carr        
Oil on paper, 57.5 x 87.9 (HxW)
Before Conservation Treatment

Shore Scene with Sunset , by Emily Carr Oil on paper, 39.5 x 58.3 (HxW)  Before Conservation Treatment

Shore Scene with Sunset, by Emily Carr Oil on paper, 39.5 x 58.3 (HxW) 
Before Conservation Treatment

Book and Paper Conservation Services recently had the privilege of conserving two works on paper by Emily Carr, Sea and Skyscape and Shore Scene with Sunset. The artworks were donated to the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG) in Sarnia, Ontario, by benefactors Pamela B. and Ian W.E. Harris, and had never before been displayed to the public. 

The paintings were in relatively good condition, but presented a number of stability issues and had discoloured over time due to acidic materials and framing. 

Both pieces were painted by Carr in oil paint on low-grade wood-pulp paper, and had been mounted on acidic backer boards, and this had caused the papers to deteriorate and discolour severely over time. Carr's loose brushwork frequently left areas of the paper uncovered, and in these locations the paper tone shows through the paint and acts as a colour itself. Both where the paper was bare and where it showed through a thin layer of paint application, the discolouration had changed the appearance of the image dramatically from what the artist had intended. 

The conservation treatment had two goals: to restore the aesthetic integrity of the works by returning the paper tones to their original intensity, and to stabilize the materials, increasing their strength and longevity.


Sea and Skyscape by Emily Carr - Before and After Conservation Treatment

SEA AND SKYSCAPE
Oil on paper
57.5 x 87.9 (HxW)

Sea and Skyscape was executed in oil paint on thin paper, and mounted on a plywood backer board. The acid in the paper and plywood had caused the artwork to darken significantly, with the exposed, bare areas of paper appearing almost crispy and burnt. There were chips and losses to the paper around the perimeter, and accretions of white paint had transferred from the original hand-painted wooden frame. In some areas, the paper had lifted from the board, and expansion and contraction had caused cracks to appear, which showed through the paint layer.

Oil on paper mounted on plywood.

Oil on paper mounted on plywood.

Tears and losses to the edge of the paper.

Tears and losses to the edge of the paper.

The artwork was deemed too fragile to remove from the wooden support, but the paper required cleaning to brighten the tone and appearance of the image, and to remove acidic components in the materials. A capillary action cleaning technique was devised to "wash" the paper directly from the recto, withdrawing discolouration and leaving the paper brighter and more stable. 

A cleaning spot test shows improvement in paper tone.

A cleaning spot test shows improvement in paper tone.

Dramatic improvement in the image is apparent after several rounds of cleaning.

Dramatic improvement in the image is apparent after several rounds of cleaning.

The cleaning treatment was dramatically successful in brightening the paper, returning the areas of bare paper to a more natural "manilla" brown colour instead of dark brown, and allowing the blues in the sky to brighten nearly back to their original tones.

Sea and Skyscape  by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

Sea and Skyscape by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

Sea and Skyscape  by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

Sea and Skyscape by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

Sea and Skyscape  by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

Sea and Skyscape by Emily Carr - detail, before and after cleaning.

The paint accretions around the edges were removed and losses were filled and toned to match the original. Cracks in the paper were sealed and inpainted as well. The painted wood frame, likely contemporary with the piece and possibly chosen by Carr herself, was cleaned to remove years of accumulated surface dirt.

Cracks in the paper were consolidated and inpainted to disguise loss.

Cracks in the paper were consolidated and inpainted to disguise loss.

Losses at the edge were filled and inpainted.

Losses at the edge were filled and inpainted.

The original wooden frame was cleaned to remove accumulated dirt.

The original wooden frame was cleaned to remove accumulated dirt.


Shore Scene with Sunset by Emily Carr - Before and After Conservation Treatment

SHORE SCENE WITH SUNSET
Oil on paper
39.5 x 58.3 (HxW)

Shore Scene with Sunset was painted in oil on an acidic brown wood-pulp paper, which had yellowed with time. It was mounted loosely on a cardboard backer and had rippled severely with changes in humidity. Small tears and losses were also present around the perimeter.

Oil on paper, mounted on cardboard backer. Signature stamp is visible in lower left corner.

Oil on paper, mounted on cardboard backer. Signature stamp is visible in lower left corner.

Raking light shows the severely rippled paper.

Raking light shows the severely rippled paper.

The first step in the conservation treatment was to remove the acidic backer board, freeing the piece from this damaging material and allowing access for washing and deacidification. The backer was removed mechanically, as was a thin loose-weave layer of fabric behind the artwork. Removal of these revealed a second stamped and inscribed signature mark on the verso.

Removing the cardboard backer.

Removing the cardboard backer.

The signature stamp revealed on verso.

The signature stamp revealed on verso.

After careful examination and testing to rule out any solubility issues, the painting was washed in distilled water to deacidify the paper and remove the yellow discolouration products. Significant amounts of yellow were removed with each change of the wash water, until the final rinse remained clear. 

Shore Scene with Sunset  in the wash.

Shore Scene with Sunset in the wash.

Successive amounts of yellow discouration removed with each change of wash water.

Successive amounts of yellow discouration removed with each change of wash water.

While the paper did not brighten overall, the yellow tone of the acidic products was eliminated, and the strength and stability of the materials were improved. After washing, the painting was flattened to remove the rippling, and the tears and losses were repaired with Japanese tissue. The original wooden frame was also cleaned to remove years of accumulated grime.

Repairing the tears and losses with Japanese tissue.

Repairing the tears and losses with Japanese tissue.

Cleaning the frame to remove surface dirt.

Cleaning the frame to remove surface dirt.

Shore Scene with Sunset,  by Emily Carr  -  detail, before and after conservation treatment. The yellow tinge is removed and the brown paper is back to its original tone.

Shore Scene with Sunset, by Emily Carr detail, before and after conservation treatment. The yellow tinge is removed and the brown paper is back to its original tone.


The dramatic improvement in both of these artworks was very satisfying, and Book and Paper Conservation Services is pleased to know that we have contributed to extending the lifetime of these important works of Canadian art. Emily Carr is a perennial favourite among art collectors and enthusiasts; art conservators are privileged to spend time in close proximity to masterpieces such as these, and we take great pride and joy in our work. 

Sea and Skyscape and Shore Scene with Sunset by Emily Carr have been returned to the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG) and are currently featured in the exhibition Heavy Hitters: The Group of 7 & Contemporariesrunning from July 7 - August 6, 2017 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The exhibition puts the spotlight on the gallery as a caretaker of the art pieces that are received from donors, and JNAAG has put together a display highlighting the conservation undertaken on these artworks.

Jennifer Robertson, art conservator at Book and Paper Conservation Services, will be giving a presentation at the gallery describing her work and the process of restoring the Emily Carr paintings, on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 7 pm. If you are interested in this project, we invite you to attend!

Art Restoration: Bringing Emily Carr Back to Life

Visit our portfolio section to see more of our fine art conservation projects, or get in touch to discuss restoration of your own collection.